Last week, I did a review on FreshBooks as an accounting and invoicing software for small businesses and freelancers. This week, keeping with the accounting and invoicing theme, I am reviewing a similar service called Harvest.
Harvest is a web-based time tracking and invoicing application relied on by creative businesses in over 100 countries.
Harvest focuses itself as a time tracking app that allows you to manage your time and resources with little to no hassle. A lot of the features they offer are very similar to FreshBooks but there are also some differences which I will discuss. Depending on your needs will determine which option is best for you as both FreshBooks and Harvest are great solutions for any small business or freelancer.
Many of the following features included in the software are very similar to other accounting and invoicing systems so rather than list them all I am just going to highlight some of the key features that stand out.
For a full breakdown of Harvest’s features, check out their website!
Harvest is a cloud app which means there is nothing you need to install on your computer and as long as you have and internet connection, you’re all set. In fact, setting up your account is quite easy and painless.
The apps website says “set-up takes seconds” and while it is super easy, I think minutes is more appropriate. It’s just a matter of creating an account, selecting your URL, and you’re done. Kinda.
After set-up there is still some housekeeping to be done in the form of key account settings you will want to address such as branding, how to handle time, and currency or payment settings. But if you have everything organized and ready, then there is no reason set-up should take you more than 5-minutes.
One of the first things you will notice about Harvest versus other apps and systems out there is the beautiful and user friendly interface. Of all the apps I have seen so far, this one is definitely up there and makes using the app easy to navigate and very easy on the eyes.
Harvest started out as a time tracking app for people who need to track the amount of time or resources they spend on different projects. Over the last 5-years in the web industry, I do have to say it is the nicest one I have come across so far. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “How can time tracking be different? Isn’t it just a timer?”
Well, yes and no. Yes, all time tracking software is either a timer or a time entry area where you enter your hours manually for the day or week. However, where systems differentiate themselves is in the ease of use and little functionality features to make your life easier. The last thing you want is to be spending lots of time logging your time. It just doesn’t make sense.
Harvest’s timesheets are super easy to use and not only look great but are also smart. They cater to the many different styles of entering time. You can enter 2.5, 2,5, or 2:30 and it will automatically know you mean 2.5 hours. Need to add some time to an entry? Just click edit on the time entry and enter “+:35” after the time and it will add 35-minutes. Similarly, you can do the same to subtract time by using “-:35”. Not needing to pull out a calculator or convert time into the proper decimal format is a big time saver when you just want to log your hours and go. Something your team will love and thank you for!
Have I mentioned that the app features keyboard shortcuts as well? Well it does and they are super handy! Especially for quickly adding time and navigating a timesheet. Most times I never need to touch my mouse to log all my hours!
Another nice feature is the ability to search projects. If you have ever used a timesheet and had to scroll through a long list of projects to find the one you wanted to apply the time to then you will love this! Simply open a new time entry, put your cursor in the project field and start typing the name of the project. As you type, all possible projects that match will be filtered making it much easier to find the project you’re looking for. The same applies for selecting the task you want to assign time to.
So yes, time tracking is more or less the same across systems but the ease of use in Harvest makes it a winner in my eyes. No longer do I dread having to log my hours for the day.
For a better look into the time tracking features, you can checkout the video and article from Harvest’s support section.
Perfect for Teams
Unless you’re a freelancer there is a good chance you work with a team. Even if you are a freelancer, you probably have people you contract out to.
A nice feature in Harvest is the ability to manage teams or contractors that work on your projects. You can create different user accounts for each team member or contractor and customize their roles to meet your needs. You can also make sure no time is applied to a project without project management or admin approval. What if someone forgets to input their timesheets, you ask? Harvest has you covered there with manual or automated reminders to team members when timesheets are due.
I am still evaluating with just the free trial version of the app so I don’t have the timesheet approval feature available (only available on basic and business accounts) but it’s there nonetheless for those who would benefit and worth mentioning.
+ Mobile & Desktop Apps
My only issue with the mobile app is that it does not let you create new projects, invoices, or estimates via the mobile app. Features that I greatly miss when using the app on the go. Instead, Harvest is sticking to its core as a time tracking app when it comes to mobile. When I reached out to Harvest support on the future functionality of adding these features to the mobile app I got the following response:
Unfortunately, we don’t have any plans for any of these at the moment, but they are requests that we’ve heard before.
Hopefully, if enough people keep asking for them, maybe they will be added sooner than later but understand that Harvest is sticking to their core as a time tracking app. However, as a project manager you can track time entries from other team members and still get an overview of who is doing what. That alone is handy when you are not in the office and curious about work being done.
Moving from mobile to desktop, they also have a desktop widget for both Mac and Windows 7/Vista that allows you to track time without having to log into the site. In fact, while I haven’t tried it yet, you can even track time via Twitter, Gmail, or even other applications like Zendesk or Trello. The desktop app is a feature that I greatly enjoy and find very useful. No matter what application I am in or what I am doing, I can very quickly start a new timer so I don’t lose track of time. The app even has a shortcut for starting a new timer making it even easier and quicker to use.
If you’re anything like me, you probably forget about your timers when you make a break for the coffee shop or go out to grab some lunch. Well, the Harvest desktop app has you covered there as well with its idle detection. This is an optional setting that will pause your timer if your computer sits idle for too long. You can even set how long your computer needs to be idle for before it pauses the clock. No more counting back time when you get back to your desk.
Harvest has a great reporting interface and is very visual making it easy to see where projects or invoices are at a glance. Reports can be broken down by project, task, client, or staff member. There are also detailed reports for expenses, project budgets (a great report for project managers), and uninvoiced hours.
Reports can also be exported in Excel or CSV formats for use in other applications.
While the reporting in Harvest is great and covers the majority of everything a small business may need, I feel I should mention that it is a simplified reporting system when compared to other accounting solutions out there. Compared to systems like FreshBooks or other dedicated accounting programs you won’t find the advanced reports such as balance sheets, tax reports, or other accounting based reports. So if this is something that is important to you then you will want to keep that in mind. However, Harvest does integrate with numerous other programs to fill this gap which I will get to shortly.
Estimates & Online Invoicing
So I know I said that Harvest is primarily a time tracking system but it also handles estimates and invoices too! Let’s face it, what good is time tracking if you can’t bill for it?
The estimate and invoice sections are both seamless. Start off by putting together an estimate and send it off to the client to review all from within the system. Estimates also have the ability to attach additional files such as contracts, statements of work, or other documentation so everything is sent in one organized email. The client can then choose to accept or decline and you will be notified in the system and/or via email. From there, creating an invoice based on the estimate is just a matter of clicking a single button and you are good to go.
With every invoice that you send out, you can utilize a customizable email template with preset messaging or you can customize the messaging in the email at the time of sending for a more personalized feeling. The email will include a link to the online invoice with the ability to pay online (via PayPal or other payment gateway) as well as a PDF of the invoice.
The estimates and invoices use a detailed but clean layout making them easy to scan and review. They also include the ability to customize so you can decide which columns you want and which you don’t. Columns such as “type” are also handy for the client (and yourself) so you can easily see which line items are service related and which are related to licenses or material purchases for the project.
What’s even better is that once the invoice is sent, you can set automated messages for when payment is made and also reminders set to any number of days until payment is received. A huge plus for those tired of chasing and reminding clients. The only feature missing is that late fees are not automatically applied so you will need to manually add those to late payments. However, with the very visual interface, it does a great job of showing you which are late and allowing you to set your own payment terms such as net-15, net-30, net-45, net-60, upon receipt, or your own custom due date.
When you have your estimate approved, you may not want to bill for the entire invoice until the work is complete but you also don’t want to start working without some deposit or initial payment. This is where you can utilize retainers in Harvest. Retainers are a relatively new feature and allow you to collect money from the client in the form of a credit or deposit and apply to any project invoices you have with the client. For example, you can create your original project estimate and then send a retainer invoice for only the amount you require to start. Or if you are handling multiple projects or billing time and materials, you can collect a lump sum credit and apply to various projects as needed.
Managing your expenses has never been easier. Harvest allows you to track all your expenses from within the system and even include them in invoices to clients. The mobile app become very handy in this area where you can take a picture of your receipts and store everything digitally rather than an overflowing shoebox or file folder.
Add-ons & Integrations
As I mentioned above, Harvest is mostly focused on time tracking rather than full on project management or accounting. However, don’t be too quick to discard it as a possible solution to your business. One of the key features about Harvest is it’s ability to integrate with many of the other popular systems out there. Combining Harvest with these other solutions allows you to utilize the best features of each system to make a solution that really works for your business. I’m personally playing with different ones to find a winning combination that works for me.
Some of the systems it integrates with include:
- and more!
- Xero Accounting
Go to Harvest’s site to see a full list of add-ons available.
Project Management Made Easy
After going through all the above features, if there is one thing that is consistent in all the features, it’s simplicity. Whether you’re a small business owner or a project manager within an organization, one thing you don’t need in your life is another complicated system to learn and manage. And that’s the great thing about Harvest. It’s easy to use but still gives you all the information you need to manage your projects.
Reports, overviews, and highlights of everything going on are all just a click away and in a format that is easy to read so you can check-in, get updated, and get back to your day.
Wish Lists & Pitfalls
Limited Mobile Functionality
As mentioned, the mobile app is great but what I miss most is the ability to create projects or estimates and invoices on the go. I always have my laptop with me but I don’t always want to open it up just to make a quick edit or quickly send an invoice. Currently, you can only track time and expenses via the mobile app.
Automated Late Fees
Automated messaging in Harvest is awesome. You never have to worry about reminding your more forgetful clients about the invoices they need to pay. However, it would be great if it could automatically apply late fees in the form of a fixed amount or a percentage of the invoice. This would truly make it a “set it and forget it” type invoicing system.
Alright, maybe the heading here isn’t correct. The reports in Harvest are great. However, the types of reports are limited and definitely won’t satisfy any accountants in your office. Comparing to similar systems like FreshBooks, there is definitely something to be desired here in the form of tax, profit/loss, and other financial summaries that make it easier to see the health of your company.
However, I understand Harvest is focusing on a specific time tracking niche and relying on other systems like Xero or Quickbooks to fulfill the accounting needs. Nonetheless, I can’t help but wish I didn’t need to rely on other systems to get these features.
With everything said and done, I love Harvest. Coming from someone who has used systems like Basecamp, Workamajig, Salesforce, and other project management systems to manage time, there is just something effortless about it.
I could easily see this system working for larger organizations but at some point I am sure you may want to rely on more dedicated accounting solutions. However, if you’re a small-medium size business, I could easily see this working quite well. Especially, with the integration and add-on options available.
Again, it really comes down to your needs as there are many systems to choose from. If you are just looking for a time tracking system that your team will actually enjoy using, then I don’t think you’ll find a better solution. If you’re looking for an all-in-one accounting and project management solution then it will depend on your needs. Either way, when you’re making your decision, make sure to give Harvest a try.
Ready to give Harvest a try?
Use this referral link to try Harvest free for 30-days and save $10 off your first month if you decide to keep using it after the trial! Get your free trial!